Why we should be happy to pay more for bus service

March 15, 2023 11:48
Photo: RTHK

One of the first English sentences we learned from Primary One was “I go to school by bus”.

Despite being Chinglish, it was a memory embedded in our minds for decades although the phrase has become an internet joke for a dummy answer in English among the locals.

But the bus reference takes to a new meaning because most of us use rail, not bus these days. As such, bus companies are asking for a crazy rate hike which we have not seen for a long time.

Local papers splashed on the five franchised bus companies, which have asked for a fare increase from 8.5 per cent to 50 per cent.

Specifically, Citybus wants to raise fares by 50 percent on its airport A and NA routes. For most bus routes on Hong Kong Island, Citybus wants to raise fares by HK$2, ditto for its sister company New World First Bus. Kowloon Motor Bus is seeking a 9.5 percent fare rise, while its sister company Long Win Bus wants an 8.5 percent rise.

The proposed hike draws a public outcry, criticizing the bus companies for raising the cost of living when the economy is only beginning to recover from the pandemic. Citizens would feel more pain when the transport subsidy ends on 31 October, 2023.

As a lecturer, I found a compelling reason for not taking the bus to the school in Shatin every Friday. The bus fare was $22, 30 per cent higher than that of the MTR while the travel time was about the same now that the Central-Shatin rail link effectively cut down the travel time by 10 minutes.

That is also the plight of the bus companies, which see their customers being lured away by the new route of MTR such as the Southern Island line.

Though results for last year have not come out yet, due to the pandemic, except KMB, all the other four bus operators lost money in 2021.

Similarly MTR Corp suffered from an operating loss of HK$4.73 billion from its transport business in 2022, after a 4.26 billion loss in 2021.

While MTR Corp may also apply for a rate hike, the weak performance of its transport operations is more than offset by profit from its property business, allowing the company to report a near 3 per cent growth of its overall profit to HK$9.82 billion last year.

Still, bus after all provide a better travel experience (better street view, higher chance of seating) than the sardine-packed train during peak hours – perhaps we should bite the bullet for the absorbable hike. After all, how can we expect a better bus service if they are mired in losses.

No pain, no gain!

EJ Insight writer